Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival began as a daylong artistic outpouring in a geriatric desert hub but has since evolved into a three-day commercial machine capable of selling out its 60,000 capacity venue. Because of its proximity to Los Angeles and day pass sales, the Goldenvoice-organized event has always had a commuter appeal where even broke Southern Californians can spend a day waiting for Rage Against the Machine to play.
But this year’s ticketing structure changed and the presale of single-day passes has been discontinued, forcing attendees to be trapped in the Coachella Valley for three full days. And for those who haven’t yet braved the campsites and overstuffed hotels surrounding the Empire Polo Field this time of year, it can get pretty miserable. Without the luxury of being able to bail out after your favorite band plays the first day, the message has been sent to potential attendees that Coachella is not just a concert — it’s an experience.
Baby wipes: Even if you’ve never changed a diaper in your life, baby wipes are essential travel items. Use them to remove layers of dirt and sweat from your Coachella-covered bodies at the end of the day and bring a travel-size pack for the crucial midday brow wipes.
Deodorant: Bring it and apply liberally. As anyone who has been to any music festival (or any sold-out concert, for that matter) knows, the smell of other people’s body odor is not a pleasant one. It’s impossible for everyone not to reek come Sunday night, but preventative measures are always appreciated.
Sunblock: You’re going to the desert where the average high will be 90 degrees. For those who don’t want to be peeling away the top two layers of their skin in the coming weeks, this one should be obvious.
Water: While water isn’t allowed inside the event, your posse should have some stock at base camp at all times. Even if it ends up tasting like lukewarm bathwater after boiling in the sun all day, your body will thank you for the hydration.
Sleeping bag/pillow/blankets: Taking advantage of the few hours of sleep per night is crucial to getting your body through the weekend. If you are not in the possession of a hotel room reservation, ensure your nighttime comfort and B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Bed). Your back will thank you later.
Ticket: In the chaos of blanket-packing, it’s easy to lose sight of the important things in life — like proof of payment.
For the car
iPod: In addition to the two-hour drives to Indio, Calif., and back, you should plan to spend hours idling in Coachella traffic. The parking situation at the venue is notoriously messy and it’s been known to take hours just to get back to the main road at the end of the night. Update your iPod with all the latest songs and bump them with pride as you sit stagnant with other carpoolers. Try to refrain from listening to the bands you’re going to see perform — it ruins the live experience.
Travel games: If you’ve never seen a miniature Scrabble board, you’re missing out on some adorably tiny wordplay. Not only are travel versions of popular board games available at any mass market retail store (Target has a great selection), but the novelty of petite-sized Sorry pieces will easily get you through the interminable car rides.
Ice chest: Find a compact ice chest and load it up with ice, water and snacks before you leave the house. Why rely on fast food and truck stops for sustenance when you can just crawl into the hatchback and save the time?
For the show
Camera: Anything without a removeable lens is good to go inside the Empire Polo Field. No guarantees your near-stage vantage points will be anything worth remembering, but bring your point-and-shoot and snap away.
Walkie talkies: You’re going to get separated from your group at some point during the weekend. And don’t rely on cell phones to keep you in touch with your pals. Service towers get overloaded at large-scale music festivals and without a set of long-range walkie talkies, your “Meet me at the Mojave stage” text might not get sent until well after Beach House finishes.
Camping urine holder: Yes, it sounds gross, but the average urine output for an adult is 1.5 liters a day and the average wait time for a Coachella porta-potty is 1.5 hours. When nature calls and you have a good spot in the Muse pit, you’ll be glad you got over the nasty factor.
Don’t even think about bringing…
Drums: In an unconscious effort to not become Burning Man, drums are once again not permitted inside Coachella. All Venice Beach escapees are forced to save the jam circles for the midnight bonfire.
Kentucky Derby hats: While the craft that goes into the horse racing event’s oversized cranium accessories are very much appreciated, they are not proper concert attire. Wide-brimmed floppy hats are great for blocking out the sun, but they are also great for blocking out the view of the stage for everyone around you.
Alcohol: Though being intoxicated is ingrained social protocol for music festivals, booze is the worst place to start. The sugars in alcohol act as a diuretic, encouraging the body to dispel more water than it normally would and making the multitude of on-site beer gardens the bane of overheated Coachella-goers.
Energy drinks: If you need to keep your exhausted body upright through the Gorillaz set Sunday, Red Bulls will not be of service. Energy drinks are bad for hanging out in the desert for the the same dehydrating reason as alcohol, so try and rack up the R.E.M. sleep instead.